With the "Pathways for Inspiring, Educating, and Recruiting West Texans in the Geosciences" (PIER) program, Angelo State University (ASU) is working to increase the participation of mostly Hispanic students in geoscience education and career pathways, through aligned programs of student recruitment and teacher professional development for grade 6-12 science teachers affiliated with the San Angelo Independent School District (SAISD). PIER has two specific goals. The first goal of introducing at least 500 students in grades 6-12 to careers in the geosciences, and providing a pathway for students to study geoscience, is being achieved through: creation of school-year geoscience outreach events; design and implementation of geoscience content modules for presentation in middle school and high school classrooms by ASU students, faculty, and informal educators; and, recruitment of students from West Texas to major in geoscience or minor in Earth Science at ASU and encourage their persistence to graduation. The second goal of educating and inspiring at least 40 teachers in geoscience content areas aligned with the grade-appropriate Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (state standards) is being achieved through: design, implementation, and evaluation of project-based working sessions offered through summer teacher institutes; and, sustaining professional development support throughout the academic year.
Hispanic students comprise almost 60% of San Angelo Independent School District enrollment, while only 4.1% of professional geologists and environmental scientists are of Hispanic origin. The National Science Foundation-supported project "Pathways for Inspiring, Educating, and Recruiting West Texans in the Geosciences" (PIER) sought to provide opportunities for enhancing diversity among students majoring in geology and among professional geologists. The PIER project was a pilot project involving Angelo State University (ASU) faculty, the Upper Colorado River Authority (UCRA), and the San Angelo Independent School District (SAISD). The PIER proposal contains five objectives: 1) conduct outreach field experiences, 2) design geology lab activities and work with teachers to implement them in High School and Middle School classrooms, 3) recruit students to major in geosciences, 4) design and run a week-long geology workshops for teachers where they can learn geology in the field, and 5) sustain teacher professional development in geology. The PIER project reached these five objectives and has established a continuing working relationship between San Angelo Independent School District High School and Middle School science teachers and Angelo State University faculty and geology students. ASU faculty and UCRA employees organized and led geology field trips to San Angelo State Park and the Concho River for Middle School and High School classes of 16 to 75. ASU faculty and the UCRA worked with teachers to design and lead geology lab activities in Middle School and High School classrooms using geologic data and materials such as rocks, minerals, maps, and earthquake data. SAISD classes involved included Environmental Science, Chemistry, Physics, Sixth Grade Science, Seventh Grade Science, Eighth Grade Science, and Middle School Pre-AP groups. In most activities, all classes in that subject participated, requiring ASU participation in the classroom over two or three days. Teachers also learned well how to lead the activity on their own. Angelo State University geology majors assisted in leading all activities, shared their backgrounds and future geology career plans, and answered many questions. In July 2012 and 2014 groups of 7 and 11 teachers gathered with ASU faculty and students for the PIER Summer Geosciences Institute on the Texas Tech Junction campus on the South Llano River. Activities included six field trips, twelve classroom and lab activities, evening discussions, and numerous informal discussions over meals in the dining hall or while travelling in vans. Teacher gained knowledge in geology teaching and lab activities that they can use in their classrooms. Connections were established at Summer Institutes that have led to additional collaboration between SAISD and ASU faculty in students in SAISD classrooms. SAISD – ASU geology connections have been strengthened by providing online geoscience resources and by meeting with teachers at their schools. Key outcomes of the PIER Project are: 1) Collaboration between ASU geology faculty and SAISD teachers is continuing after the grant is over! 2) ASU Geoscience majors are effective teachers and recruiters. They receive educational benefits from participating as well. 3) Excellent geology field trips can be run for large and small groups with careful planning and at little cost. 4) The PIER Summer Geoscience Institute is a good way to inspire and educate teachers about geology. The key components of the Summer Geoscience Institute are: many field trips, diverse lab activities, and much sharing between ASU and SAISD participants. 5) The preceding key outcomes are definitely getting a significant number of SAISD High School and Middle School students and their teachers interested in geology and in attending college. An unknown at present, perhaps significant number of these students fired up about geology, science, and college will pursue a college degree in geology and other sciences. The key to the ultimate success of the PIER project will be if the project continues at the same level of activity over the next ten years.